Week 19: #52 Ancestors – Mother’s Day
By Eilene Lyon
My grandpa, Laurence M. Smith, lost his mother when he was just nine years old. Though his family had known severe hardships in the early years, Laurence remembered the family’s better fortunes from the time of his birth in 1908 until his mother died.
Mary Lila Reams was born in Columbus, Johnson County, Missouri, on November 24, 1871. She was the fourth of seven children born to Thomas Alexander Reams and Mary Paul. She also had three older half-siblings from Mary Paul’s first marriage to Richard Boyer. The Reams had moved to Missouri from Tipton County, Indiana, just a few years before Mary Lila’s birth.
Charles Edward Smith also migrated to Johnson County from Tipton County, but it is unknown if he was acquainted with the Reams before he arrived in Missouri. At any rate, when Mary Lila was just 16, she was wed to 20-year-old Charles.
After the births of their first three children – Clara, Harry, and Ada – the Smith family relocated to Sprague, Lincoln County, Washington. They also farmed near Cunningham and later near Colville. These were the hard years, when the family was living by farming. About 1910, the Smiths relocated a final time, to Moscow, Latah County, Idaho.
The Smith farm near Cunningham, Washington. From left: Ada, Clara, Clifford, Mary Lila, Leon, Charles E., Harry Smith
In Moscow, Charles prospered as a merchant and entrepreneur. The family by then included seven children. Laurence was the second youngest, born in Colville. The youngest, Loren, was only six when Mary Lila died suddenly of heart failure on October 20, 1917. She was not quite 46 years old.
The following is an excerpt from Laurence’s memoirs, about his mother:
By the time I came along or at least by the time I was able to recall events, we were living in a large house at 5th and Jefferson streets in Moscow, Idaho. I think the family would be considered upper middle class at least. In the large front parlor which was seldom used, there was an upright piano, and a large Victrola phonograph, as well as other appropriate furniture. The year is 1916.
The Smith house at 501 Jefferson St., Moscow, Idaho 1915 (no longer in existence).
Ada and Harry Smith at the upright piano in the parlor 1915.
If I could use one word to describe my mother it would be “efficient.” She was a capable and intelligent manager. She ruled over the house full of people, and her pride and joy was the kitchen. I recall as a youngster watching as she kneaded the dough to bake bread. She would make about six large loaves and a lot of “lite bread” biscuits. All this was a joy to eat, I assure you. I’m sure that with this large a family we had to buy bakery bread also, but once a week the family had home-made bread and biscuits…
The trip to Lewiston to pick peaches was an annual affair. I remember that we all got into the G.M.C. truck and headed out. In those days we went down the old grade, which was really twice removed from the present highway alignment. At the orchard south of Lewiston, the folks would pick boxes of peaches and after a picnic lunch we would head back to Moscow.
We not only canned peaches, but we made what was called peach butter. In the processing of the fruit everybody worked, male and female. Your gender was no excuse from kitchen duties. I remember standing on a chair and maneuvering a wooden paddle-like tool to stir the large batch of peach butter. It was necessary to keep the paddle moving so the fruit mixture would not scorch or stick to the bottom of the large container on top of the old-fashioned kitchen range.
At the Lewiston peach orchard. Mary Lila, Charles, Ada, and Callie (Trout) Smith
View of the grade down to Lewiston, with parts of the old wagon grade visible and the auto road built in 1917. The new highway bypasses this area completely.
I recall on Thanksgiving Day mother had prepared a bountiful meal for the family when she decided to fix a tray of food including chocolate pie, and take it across the street to the Stones. Mrs. Stone was very ill. I was watching mother through the window. She slipped on ice at the front steps of the Stone’s house and lost the whole tray of food. She was a very resolute person; she picked up the mess, came home and fixed up another tray of food. The second time, she managed to get over to the Stone’s house and deliver the food.
My mother was a good manager who participated in all the decisions the family had to make. The family prospered while she was alive. After she died, my dad was without help in making decisions. Things did not go well with the family.
Mary Lila’s death was a hard blow to the Smith family, though four of the children were grown and on their own. The three youngest boys struggled, along with their father, to keep the family going, but when Charles remarried a few years later, it drove the children away.
A poem on Mary Lila’s funeral card expresses the sentiments of her grieving family:
We have lost our darling mother,
She has bid us all adieu.
She has gone to live in heaven,
And her form is lost to view.
Oh, that dear one, how we loved her!
Oh, how hard to give her up!
But an angel came down for her
And removed her from our flock.
Headstone of Mary Lila (Reams) Smith in the Moscow Cemetery:
Wife of G. E. Smith [sic]
Nov 24, 1871
Oct 20, 1917
Rest mother, rest in quiet sleep,
While friends in sorrow
o’er thee weep
The Smith family in 1915. Daughters Clara Bell and Dora Ada. Charles and Mary Lila seated, with son Leon on right. Sons in the middle, back to front: Harry, Clifford, Laurence and Loren.
Feature image: Mary Lila Reams with her youngest child, Loren, taken shortly before her death.
Smith, Laurence M. 1990. “The Passing Parade” (personal memoir, unpublished).